After moving to Paris in 1888 and joining Les Nabis, a group of Post-impressionists that included Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis and Félix Vallotton, Hungarian painter József Rippl-Rónai’s art took a modern turn. Those years spent in Paris are known as his black period, for he painted numerous women set against dark backgrounds.
Dating from his years in France, A Park at Night is perhaps one of Rippl-Ronai’s most unsettling artworks, showing the trees of a park submerged in darkness. The only light is coming from a few dimly lit lamp posts, which in their arrangement suggest a park alley receding in the background.
Despite its apparent simplicity, the landscape manages to conjure palpable apprehension and dread of the unknown, appealing to a childhood anxiety that some people never seem to overcome: the fear of darkness and its looming dangers. The trees and the grass, as if X-rayed, are glowing with a fluorescence that increases the eeriness of the landscape. And notice how the tree trunks are tilted, to destabilize our perception even more; the whole scene looks haunted and menacing. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to take a walk in that park at night.